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Outdoor Adventure Resource Guide: Hiking Safety

Outdoor Adventure Resource Guide: Hiking Safety

Hiking is a fun and popular pastime for many outdoor enthusiasts. Not only is it a way of enjoying nature's beauty, but it is also a natural form of exercise. Despite the many positive advantages associated with it, it is a form of recreation that is not without risk. Anytime people venture into the wild, they face numerous threats to their physical health and even their life. Before going camping, a person should recognize and respect these risks so that he or she can avoid falling victim to them. In order to do this, it's important to understand what precautions must be taken, both before and during the hike.


Plan Out Your Hiking Trip

Hiking safety begins even before a person leaves his or her home. This involves thoroughly planning out the trip. First, consider hiking with another person or a group. Not only will this provide companionship, but there is also safety in groups. It is a good idea to also consider one's level of physical fitness and health limitations. When a person does this, he or she is ensuring that they do not hike in an area that they are not physically able to manage. Once a hiking area has been determined based of the limitations of the hiking party, it is also important to familiarize oneself with the area. This can be done using guidebooks, maps, or by going online and searching for information on the park or area. The state of the weather should also be taken into consideration when planning a hiking excursion. If rain, strong winds, or snow are in the forecast, it is best that the hiker is aware of it in advance rather than being taken by surprise. Whether a person is hiking alone or with another person, one of the most important safety precautions that he or she can make is to tell someone about the trip. This should be a person who is not a part of the hiking party. He or she should be told where the trip will be and when the hiker will return home.


  • Hiking 101: Choosing the Right Hike: Part one of a three-part article about hiking and hiking safety. Part one discusses how to plan for a hiking trip in terms of hiking according to fitness level and hiking with a companion or group. The page also includes links to Part 2: Selecting Clothing and Gear, and Part 3: Hiking Safely and Politely.
  • Leave No Trace – Plan Ahead: An article that outlines how to prepare for a hiking trip.
  • Hiking and Camping Safety: A PDF that is broken into two sections. The first section of the list includes how to prepare for a hiking trip. The second part of the PDF includes a list of what to take on the hiking trip.
  • Hiking Safety: An article that discusses how to safely go on a hiking trip. The article includes precautions that should be taken when planning a trip.


Dress Appropriately and Bring the Right Supplies

Safety also involves having the right equipment, supplies, and clothing while hiking. The hiker should dress in clothing that is appropriate for weather conditions. This means bringing a sweater and a pair of long pants, even in the summer months. A rain jacket and pants, or a rain resistant parka should be worn in the winter or if rain is in the forecast. The right shoes will also prevent injury from the hike and from the elements. Hiking or terrain boots will suffice in the summer, spring, and fall, but insulated boots may be necessary in winter months and snowshoes when hiking in the snow. Additional socks, a pair of gloves, and sunglasses are also important. An extra pair of socks may be necessary if the pair being worn becomes wet, which can increase the risk of hypothermia. Sunglasses will help to protect the eyes from sun glare.

  • It is also crucial to carry a small first aid kit for any injuries that may occur while on the trip. A flashlight, matches, pocket knife, and whistle are also important to carry. These can be useful in certain emergency situations, particularly if a person becomes lost or must wait for help. A compass and a map of the area should also be taken. This may help the hiking party if they become confused about their location. Extra food is also critical when hiking. Food should be non-perishable or kept in a way that it does not get overly hot and spoil. Hikers must also have plenty of water on hand as water from rivers and streams carry parasites and bacteria that can cause severe illness.


  • New Hampshire Fish and Game: The website lists recommended clothing and equipment that hikers should wear or carry. This information is in sections for summer, winter, day hikes, and overnight trips.
  • Ten Essentials: A page on the American Hiking Society website that lists items that campers should take whenever they are hiking.
  • Hiking Safety Tips: A section on the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department website that reviews safety tips for hikers. This includes a numbered list of items to carry while hiking, as well as other safety tips such as what hikers should do if they get lost.
  • Hiking and Camping Safety Tips: The California Parks and Recreations PDF that gives a number of useful tips about hiking. These tips are found under the “Hiking Tips” section of the document and includes what to take on the trip, what to wear, and also how to prepare. Avoiding wildlife dangers, equipment, and first aid and emergencies are also included in the document.
  • Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites - Hiking Safety Tips: A bulleted list of safety tips that includes what to bring when hiking, what to wear, and what items to include in an emergency kit. The page also includes safety tips especially for children and advice on what the hiker should do if he or she becomes lost.


Know What to do While Hiking

Once a hiker is on the trail, it is important that he or she stays diligent in terms of safety. One common sense way to do that is to hike only on the trail itself. Straying from the trail increases the chance of injury; it can cause the hiker to get lost, or come into contact with potentially dangerous wildlife, including plants. Hikers should be able to identify and avoid poison ivy, poison oak, and other poisonous plants. If the hiker touches, or otherwise comes into contact with a poisonous plant, it is important that he or she understands what to do. For example, if a hiker comes into contact with poison oak, the area should be cleaned with soap as soon as possible, and rinsed completely with cold water.


  • Lost in the Woods: A PDF brochure that discusses what to do if lost while hiking. A majority of the brochure explains the importance of being prepared and includes information about what to take when hiking in terms of equipment, food and water, and clothing.
  • Friends of Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR): An article that explains what hikers should, and should not, do if they get lost while hiking.
  • Food Safety While Hiking, Camping or Boating: An article from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service that explains food safety such as how to keep it safe while hiking and how to make water safe for drinking.
  • Advice to the Wary While in the Wild: An article about staying safe in when hiking in the wild. The article includes watching one's step while hiking, using caution around plants, and practicing accident prevention.
  • Hiking Safety: An article that discusses various safety issues, such as injuries, altitude sickness, weather, and wild animals. The article advises hikers how to stay safe when faced with these dangers.


Know What to do if Confronted by Wild Animals

Wild animals are a very real and serious threat to hikers. Before the hiking trip, a person should learn what animals are found in the area and how to avoid them. For example, in an area with mountain lions, it is best to hike later in the morning or during the daylight hours. This is because mountain lions are more active in the early morning when the sun is first rising, dusk, and at night. Bears are another common animal that hikers may come into contact with in certain areas. To avoid confrontation with them, and other predatory animals, it is best to make loud noises while hiking so that the animals are not startled. Other precautions include hiking with a group, hiking during the day, and not straying away from the group. Special care should be taken if hiking with children, who are typically viewed as easy prey by many wild animals. People should also avoid animals that are with their young, as they may attack in efforts to protect them.

Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to avoid contact with wildlife. If a person is confronted by a wild animal, it is important not to panic. When faced with a predatory animal, a person should never turn their back or run. Running from a predatory animal, such as a bear, can trigger its natural hunting instinct. Instead, a person should back away slowly. If attacked by a bear, such as a black bear for example, a person should lie down. Placing his or her fingers over the head and neck will protect this area from injury. It is also recommended that the person spread his or her legs to prevent the bear from rolling them over. If confronted by a mountain lion, however, a person must not lie down. Instead, he or she should try to stand as tall as possible, face the animal, make noise, and even throw rocks. If it attacks, the person should never run, but instead the best option is to fight back.


  • Hike Safe: Information on how hikers should react when in the presence of wildlife. The information is designed for hikers in New Hampshire but is suitable for hikers facing wildlife in any location. Bears, moose, and other animals such as raccoons, deer, or foxes, are discussed in the article.
  • National Park Service - Great Smoky Mountains - Hiking Safety: Valuable hiking safety tips for hikers who are traveling the Great Smoky Mountains. The advice is appropriate for all hiker at any location. The information includes wildlife safety, treating water, dressing appropriately to avoid hypothermia, and making family aware of what area is being hiked.
  • Center for Wildlife Information: Be Bear Aware - Hiking, Camping and Food Storage: This article discusses how to stay safe from wild animals. The article covers how to reduce the risk of close encounter with wildlife. It also discusses how to stay safe when back-country camping.
  • Travel Safety in the Outdoors and National Parks: This article gives the reader tips on staying safe around animals when in the wilderness.



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